Before heading inland with the Landcruiser, Achmed has to refuel at the city highway of Muscat. Converted a little more than 20 euros for the 120 liters of diesel, for European motorists Oman is a paradise. The only worrying thing is that the engine is running when you fill up the tank. Because of the air conditioner, says Achmed. He knows his guests and knows that they first have to get used to the dry desert climate.
Whether women are also allowed to drive here? Strange question, Achmed thinks, but remains extremely polite: Of course there are female drivers in Oman, after all, this is not Saudi Arabia. Women even sit on the Council of Ministers, albeit only four. And like all parliamentarians, in Oman’s absolute monarchy they are only advisors to Sultan Qabus, who is also head of state, prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the police.
The sources of wealth are finite
Since exiling his own father in 1970 and placing himself on the throne, Sultan Qabus has catapulted the country from the Arab Middle Ages to Western modernity in just a few decades. With the oil billions still gushing from the desert floor, he has given his people free schools, universal health care and infrastructure. But stocks will only last for another 15 years, experts estimate. Until then, the state must break away from its dependence on oil, and alternatives and perspectives must be found. Now tourists are also expected to bring money into the country.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Sultanate opened up to tourism. Oman is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world, with three million inhabitants spread over an area almost the size of Poland. Unlike in the Emirates, where millions of migrant workers are employed, Oman is staffed almost exclusively by locals, which is also part of the plan for the post-oil era.
Do without mass tourism
In his white Dishdasha, the floor-length robe, turban and Oakley sunglasses Achmed steers through the dense traffic. The drive out of the capital passes sleek new Moorish-style buildings, ostentatious miniature palaces and smaller shopping malls glowing with the familiar logos of Western fast-food chains. Flowerbeds and flags in the median strip, carefully trimmed bushes on the traffic islands – compared to the glass and steel metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Omani capital looks more like a tranquil health resort.
The airport in Muscat is being modernized and expanded to accommodate the growing number of tourists. So far, the hotel castles are still missing, and many Oman visitors hope it will stay that way for a long time to come. Moreover, temperatures of over 40 degrees from June to September are no fun even for sun-seekers.
Ruins become world heritage sites
Instead of building records and megaprojects, the focus here is on cautious development – and on the city’s own cultural heritage, which is unique on the Arabian Peninsula. Unspoiled culture, monumental mountains, almost untouched deserts. In addition 1700 kilometers of coastline with unspoiled beaches. Sinbad the Sailor is said to have set sail from here to trade, and later the Portuguese and British came as colonial masters. More than 500 fortresses remind of Oman’s eventful past. Only the ruins of some of them are still standing, some are well preserved.
Best time to travel: October to May
Flights: Oman Air flies directly from Frankfurt or Munich to Muscat.
Travel: Many tour operators have package tours in their program. Even traveling individually is safe. Because there are only a few hotels, you should plan for the long term.
Info: Oman Tourism
"Sometimes it even snows there", says Achmed, pointing to the massive cliffs that rise up behind a huge date palm oasis. The Hashar Mountains, up to 3000 meters high, stretch from the border with the United Arab Emirates in the north to the Indian Ocean in the southeast. Amidst the lush green of palm trees stands the mighty fortress of Nakhl. Achmed stands somewhat perplexed at the edge, while about 30 tourists listen to a guide who tells them about the thousand-year-old history of the fortress. Like Achmed, many Omanis are still slow to understand the value of the old buildings. Finally, architectural relics from the past were razed to the ground until recently. Since the Sultan has been relying on tourism as a source of income, even half-ruined forts are being rebuilt, and some have even been declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
Although the number of visitors has almost doubled annually in recent years, the after-effects of tourism have so far failed to materialize: No pushy hawkers, no begging children, tourists are welcomed as guests by self-confident locals, and women can travel through the country unselfconsciously. This is particularly evident in the souk in the middle of the old city of Muscat. The labyrinthine corridors are redolent with the scent of incense, rose water and Indian spices. Saffron, silver jewelry and clothing are traded here without hustle and bustle. The self-confident Omanis sit quietly in their stores. They know what they have to offer and know the value of their goods.